Up Front and Personal

Bishop Daily’s Pastoral Visit to Ground Zero

by Frank DeRosa

The passing of Bishop Thomas V. Daily evoked fond memories among all who knew him. Msgr. Ralph J. Maresca and Father Vincent E. Daily poignantly recalled their own thoughts in their touching homilies at the Mass of Transferral and the Mass of Christian Burial, respectively.

Looking back, it was memorable observing the bishop in the terrifying days on and after Sept. 11, 2001. On the morning the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, he climbed the stairs that led to the roof of the Chancery Building at 75 Greene Ave. and gazed across the river at the horrific sight of flames pouring out from the landmark structures.

This man of prayer stood there in silence for a long time, his eyes fixed on the tragic scene. There’s no doubt he was thinking of the victims, praying for the repose of their souls and asking God to ease the pain of their loved ones. After the solemn moments passed, without a word he turned and walked down to his office, carrying with him the searing image of the devastation he had just witnessed not too far away in lower Manhattan.

Two days later he saw the destruction up close. Returning from a meeting called by Mayor Rudy Giuliani with key religious leaders in the City, where they made plans for a prayer service, now-Msgr. John Delendick, the dedicated New York Fire Department chaplain, who was driving him, Msgr. Maresca and this writer, asked the bishop if he wanted to stop and visit Ground Zero.

Without hesitation he agreed.

Arriving at the site, Bishop Daily donned a mouth covering that the chaplain offered him and walked to the ash-filled pile. At the sight of the bishop, many first responders left their posts, headed toward him and greeted him warmly. The mouth covering did not stay on long. They hugged him, thanked him for coming, and particularly those who lived in Brooklyn and Queens, shared their own recollections of him saying Mass at their parish. Going to Ground Zero was a pastoral visit unlike any he made before or after.

In a conversation prior to the bishop’s funeral Mass, Msgr. Delendick remembered that Bishop Daily told him to remain available to the first responders there on the scene as long as he felt it necessary to be with and to minister to them. He said he would have another priest cover for him at St. Michael’s in Sunset Park where he was the pastor. In doing so, the bishop himself became a first responder to a sudden spiritual need.

May this good man rest in peace, now in the company of the victims he prayed for on 9/11.

Frank DeRosa is the former director of the diocesan Public Information Office. He is retired and lives in Wilton, Conn.